Study: Depression and anxiety: how the corona pandemic is still affecting our psyche

Increasing incidences, occupied hospital beds and a new vaccination campaign: we are in the middle of the seventh corona wave.

Study: Depression and anxiety: how the corona pandemic is still affecting our psyche

Increasing incidences, occupied hospital beds and a new vaccination campaign: we are in the middle of the seventh corona wave. And although the pandemic is by no means the only thing that worries us these days, it has changed all of our lives forever. We learned what it means to live in a restricted world and how social distancing affects how we live together.

But the coronavirus pandemic has not only turned our social life upside down, it has also shaken our psychological well-being. According to a recent study by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the collective mental health of Germans has deteriorated massively over the past two years, as stated in a press release from the institution.

In order to look at the mental health situation in Germany as differentiated as possible, the researchers focused their analysis on three areas: depressive symptoms such as depression and loss of interest, anxiety symptoms and subjective mental health.

The number of depressions increased from pandemic year to pandemic year. While nine percent of Germans still complained of depressive symptoms in spring and summer 2020, the figure was 13 percent the following year. This year, a total of 17 percent of citizens showed corresponding symptoms. The increase can be observed above all in women, young adults and people over 65 years of age.

Anxiety symptoms are also playing an increasingly important role in our society. While in the period from March to September 2021 seven percent of the population still stated that they were stressed by anxiety, this proportion had already risen to eleven percent in the spring of this year.

While the number of mental illnesses increased as the pandemic progressed, the subjective mental health of Germans also fell. According to data from the Robert Koch Institute, two years ago 44 percent rated their mental state as "very good". Only 40 percent would now agree.

However, it is questionable whether the coronavirus pandemic alone is responsible for the deterioration in mental health. In the survey period between 2019 and 2022, a number of other stressors were added. For example, the Ukraine war, inflation and the climate crisis are also causing people in Germany and many other countries around the world to face challenges that they have never known before.

For the study, the scientists at the RKI surveyed between 1,000 and 3,000 people every month. However, the current status has not yet been checked by independent experts. Nevertheless, the study gives another indication that the current times of crisis could leave lasting marks on our psyche.

In the run-up to the study, there were a number of scientific studies on the far-reaching effects of the pandemic on our psyche. The state of research was summarized in a report by the Ministry of Health in March 2022. The conclusion: Corona and the associated measures have led to an increase in loneliness, stress and mental illness in the general population.

The good news: With the lifting of the lockdown and the distancing rules, the corresponding negative consequences for the mental health of German citizens have subsided again. And of course not everyone suffers from the consequences of the pandemic in the same way: Young and old people in particular, as well as women and people with mental health problems, are mentally challenged these days.

So everyone else is fine? It's not that simple either. A study by US researchers suggests that the pandemic can also affect our personality. For their study, the scientists observed the character traits of 7,000 Americans using the "Big Five model" over the course of the pandemic.

Their conclusion: Over time, all participants became less extroverted, less conscientious, less open to new things and less empathetic. In return, the value for neuroticism – i.e. emotional lability – increased, especially among the younger respondents. Personality changes aren't uncommon at first, but the results are remarkable. Because: According to the study authors, the recorded changes normally occur over a period of ten years.

Sources: Press release from the Robert Koch Institute, US study on personality changes caused by the pandemic, status report from the Federal Ministry of Health